Publishing Isn’t for Sissies: Inside the Barrel

The end-all-be-all of surfing is riding inside the barrel, where the wave hollows out and curls over you and you’re riding free inside the monster. It’s a bitch to get there, it’s a dangerous place, yet it’s heaven at the same time. Much like how a writer feels, cruising  toward the last third of a novel’s rough draft. It’s a desperate place, hollowed out and empty, but it’s magic–if you can grit out the ride long enough to get yourself there.

surfing barrel

Most writers are clucked from time to time: a surfer’s term for being scared of waves. Writers, we’re scared of our stories more often than we want to admit. Not exactly what we want the world that devours our end-goal to know. Because it’s not really the story, in the end, that freaks us out. It’s the drop (yeah, this will be a running theme, deal with it ;o).

surfing drop

While surfing, the drop is where a surfer first gets up on a wave, then points his board straight down the face of it, plunging toward nothingness, until he either takes the needed turn and flies, or eats it.The last push of a draft is that way. There’s more story behind than before you, you’ve set everything up, hopefully, and now it’s time to bring the reader home. Everything’s riding on that last turn. Yet things have gotten truly gnarly, dude. Because this is a draft. Your first pass.

The story is breaking. Your only choices are to ride that last wave or turn back. And turning back, even for the pros, is often much more appealing.

fighting fear

Publishing isn’t for sissies, when things are at their messiest in the draft and the fear of wiping out yawns and you’re in the soup. The business and the networking and the promised methods of writing success fade. It’s just you and the words. Your command over your environment is all that matters now. Your control over your own fear. It’s your wave to challenge or turn back from.

We’ve all read wonderful books by wonderful writers that nonetheless fall flat for us, like a wave ride that takes us to the brink, then fizzles. Writers have all felt this happen in their own process, and many of us call it writer’s block. In reality, it’s just part of the ride. It’s the job, pushing and driving forward when all signs say to turn back. When your confidence is dinged up, and it’s been too long since you finished a story, and you have to force yourself to take the disaster you’re drafting and make something clean and magnificent and bitchin’ come to life from it. Like a perfect writing wave.

surfing perfect wave

In this world where our business is exploding around us daily, it’s easy to think that conquering what happens outside the book is the most important thing. Don’t believe it. What’s going on within your mind and how it comes to life on the page must remain what keeps you amped.

The writing is what professionals focus on every day. The business is what they do when they’re not writing, because they don’t stop until they have an amazing product to sell.

You want to be one of those success stories you hear about online every day? The author who comes from out of nowhere and hits it big in the new frontier of publishing. Then write through the breaking waves and don’t bail out when it gets tough. Don’t be a sissy. Cut back as many times as you need to, but don’t lift your butt out of your chair, until you’ve created forward in your work-in-progress every day. Don’t let the fear win, no matter how heavy the draft feels or how daunting the drop is into the ending rising before you.


Yeah, I have about a quarter of a draft to finish. I’m in the deep waves this week (and probably next week, too). But I’m not going to stop until this beautiful, challenging, $#&^%# story is completed the way it needs to be. I want to ride inside that perfect barrel, no matter hard it is to get there.

How about you?

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10 Responses to “Publishing Isn’t for Sissies: Inside the Barrel”

  1. Pam Asberry says:

    Great article, Anna. You are just the cheerleader I needed today. Thank you.

  2. Great article, Anna! Loved the extended analogy.

    I have tried to explain this feeling to non-writers before, but it rarely seems to sink in. I’m sure they’re thinking “What’s so scary about sitting around in your sleep pants all day with a laptop on your lap and making stuff up?” But it IS scary.

    I tend to experience that free-fall feeling in the second quarter of the book. The first quarter (equating to the first act of a movie) is relatively easy. But that second quarter, up to the halfway point…grrrr.

    I just have to gut it out and push through it. I know I can come back later and make it better. Then the second half of the book generally rushes out.

    Thanks for the reminder that we’re not alone in writer-fear-itis!

    • I tell students all the time, and more than a few don’t believe me, that at some point toward the end of every new draft I wander downstairs in the middle of the night to tell my husband, “It’s crap. It’s all crap. I’ll never be able to finish this book.”

      To which he says something akin to, “Yeah, yeah. You say that every time. And you finish ever time. It’s going to be okay.”

      Which makes me want to smack him at first. Except he’s right. And when I do finish, he gets lots of kisses for shoving me back upstairs to finish the work.

      Don’t try this at home, kids, unless you’re ready for the ride of your life ;o)

  3. Great post and so true. Half the time when I’m writing, I think it sucks, but for some reason I kept going. When I send it to an editor I’m scared out of my mind, and publishing it is even worse. What if readers don’t like it. Our fear of rejection holds us back too much and it needs to stop.

    LOL Anna, I do that too, and my boyfriend tells me the same thing. I also do a lot of printing off a section and asking his opinion.

    Writing is a test of endurance.

  4. Thanks, Anna. This “smack” of reality is what we all need to stay focused and go for the ride of our lives :)

  5. Oh my! The stories I could tell about clawing my way through the fog of fear throughout my 3-decade writing career. I don’t think you ever really get over it — you just keep plowing your way through it. I love this visual comparison to surfing. Very well written!!

    Interestingly, I created a video with a very similar theme Anna. Not nearly as clever or imaginative as your approach! :^)

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